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UNIT 7 CHAPTER 18<br />

The Christian<br />

Understanding<br />

of Suffering<br />


Chapter 18 Overview<br />

Sooner or later, everyone suffers. No matter how successful someone is, or how perfect their life might look,<br />

they have or will experience loss, pain, and suffering in some way. You are almost an adult, and to this point<br />

in your life you may not have experienced any real trials, or you may have endured — and still may be enduring<br />

— genuine hardships. Why does God allow this to happen? How can we make sense of suffering in the<br />

world as Christians? In this chapter, we will take a closer look at three Christian insights into suffering as we<br />

begin to answer the question of why God would allow it to happen. We will also look at common misunderstandings<br />

of why there is suffering in the world, and why they are incompatible with who God is.<br />

In this chapter you will learn that …<br />

■ Jesus Himself endured great suffering.<br />

■ By reflecting on Christ’s Suffering, Death, and Resurrection, we can gain three special insights in reflecting<br />

on the meaning of suffering.<br />

1. The Resurrection of Jesus and the suffering He endured for our sake perfectly reveals God’s<br />

unconditional love for us.<br />

2. Suffering is far from meaningless; it helps us move toward our eternal salvation.<br />

3. There will be no suffering in our own resurrection.<br />

■ Suffering is not only experienced by the unjust, and not solely the result of Original Sin.<br />

■ God may cause suffering directly if it is for our salvation and does not interfere with our freedom.<br />

■ Humility and trust must always be the basis of our relationship with God. As this relationship grows, it<br />

becomes more possible for us to endure suffering peacefully without understanding why it is happening.<br />

Bible Basics<br />

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be<br />

comforted.”<br />

— Matthew 5:4<br />

[W]e rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that<br />

suffering produces endurance, and endurance<br />

produces character, and character produces<br />

hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because<br />

God’s love has been poured into our<br />

hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been<br />

given to us.<br />

— Romans 5:3–5<br />

Connections to the Catechism<br />

■ CCC 402–406<br />

■ CCC 572<br />

■ CCC 601<br />

■ CCC 2086<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />


Chapter 18<br />

Aa<br />


Redemption: Freedom from<br />

bondage or oppression.<br />

Christian Insights into Suffering<br />

One thing we can know for sure about suffering is that no one seems<br />

to escape it. From the discomfort of a headache to the anguish of losing<br />

a loved one, every person who has ever lived has or will experience<br />

suffering. Why? Why would an all-good and all-powerful God allow suffering<br />

to go on when He could stop it? In fact, for many in today’s world,<br />

this question is the single biggest hurdle for belief in God, even when<br />

presented with all the evidence we have covered in this course.<br />

As Christians, it is important for us to remember that God Himself<br />

endured great suffering. By reflecting on Christ’s Suffering, Death,<br />

and Resurrection, we can gain three special insights in reflecting on the<br />

meaning of suffering.<br />

1. Suffering is completely redeemed (or made good) in the<br />

Resurrection.<br />

2. Suffering has great meaning.<br />

3. There will be no suffering after our own resurrection.<br />

In this chapter, we will take a closer look at these three insights into<br />

suffering as we begin to answer the question of why God would allow<br />

suffering. We will also look at common misunderstandings of why there<br />

is suffering in the world, and why they are incompatible with who God is.<br />

First Christian Insight: Suffering is Completely<br />

Redeemed in the Resurrection<br />

Jesus’ Resurrection is the crowning truth of our Faith. Without it, our<br />

hope for eternal life is meaningless. St. Paul writes in his First Letter<br />

to the Corinthians: “Now if Christ is preached as raised from the<br />

dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the<br />

dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has<br />

not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching<br />

is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:12–14). We have<br />

many reasons to believe Jesus rose from the dead in addition to Sacred<br />

Scripture. In Chapter 7, we learned about some of this evidence, such as<br />

the testimony of the Apostles in the New Testament, along with modern<br />

historical research into the Bible. The Shroud of Turin and the Facecloth<br />

of Oviedo (see Chapter 9) as well as the phenomenon of near-death<br />

experiences (see Chapter 1) also provide convincing evidence of the<br />

Resurrection. Finally, we learned in Chapter 10 of Eucharistic miracles<br />

360 Apologetics I: The Catholic Faith and Science<br />

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and the miracles done in the name of Jesus through the intercession<br />

of His mother Mary and the saints, none of which can be explained<br />

without the Resurrection. Considering all this evidence, we can be confident<br />

in Christ’s Resurrection. The more confident we are in Jesus’<br />

Resurrection, the more confident we can be about our own resurrection.<br />

And the more confident we are about our own resurrection, the<br />

better we will be able to respond when we experience suffering in this<br />

life.<br />

What do we mean by our own resurrection? In 1 Corinthians 15, St.<br />

Paul went on to express the unique Christian belief in the resurrection<br />

of the dead: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the<br />

first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came<br />

death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as<br />

in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (20–22). We<br />

express belief in the resurrection of the dead every time we profess our<br />

faith at Mass: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life<br />

of the world to come.” This means that we believe and hope that just as<br />

Jesus rose from the dead and now lives forever, so, too, will we rise again<br />

when He returns in glory, and live forever, in body and soul, with Him.<br />

Belief in the resurrection of the dead has been an essential element of<br />

the Christian faith from the beginning but has always faced opposition<br />

and misunderstanding. While many people will accept that the soul lives<br />

In his epistles, St. Paul<br />

expresses the uniquely<br />

Christian belief in the<br />

resurrection of the dead.<br />

St. Paul, by El Greco.<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 7, Chapter 18: The Christian Understanding of Suffering<br />


Job is an example of steadfast<br />

faith even amid great<br />

suffering.<br />

on in some form after death, it seems incredible to some that our bodies,<br />

which are clearly mortal, could also share in everlasting life. Christ’s<br />

Resurrection, however, gives us some understanding of how the resurrection<br />

will occur. The bodies we are raised with will be our own bodies,<br />

but they will be glorified like His, and the life we return to will be different<br />

from this earthly life. And it is in our resurrected glorified bodies that we<br />

will live forever with God at the end of time, free of suffering and death.<br />

The resurrection exceeds our imagination and understanding and is<br />

something that we can only know by faith.<br />

Belief in Jesus’ Resurrection gives us hope in our own resurrection,<br />

but why does it give us that hope? Because of who God is: He is love.<br />

The Resurrection of Jesus and the suffering He endured for our sake<br />

perfectly reveals God’s unconditional love for us. Because of God’s unconditional<br />

love, He does everything possible for us. Perfect love never<br />

ends, and so, God’s plan is our union with Him for eternity. If we seek<br />

Him with a sincere heart and strive do His will as Jesus taught us, we<br />

can be confident that the unconditional love of Jesus and His Father<br />

will bring us to the promised resurrection. We should not doubt that the<br />

Lord will forgive us as many times as we have failed, just as the tax collector<br />

in Jesus’ parable received God’s mercy when he prayed contritely<br />

(Luke 18), and the father of the Prodigal Son rejoiced at the return of<br />

his son (Luke 15).<br />

Job and His Friends, by lya Repin.<br />

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St. Paul understood how important this confidence in the unconditional<br />

love of God is — not only for the sake of warding off discouragement<br />

and despair, but also for making sense of the suffering in our<br />

lives. In Romans 8, Paul argues that if God allowed His Son to sacrifice<br />

Himself completely for us, then there is nothing that He would not do to<br />

save us and bring us to eternal life. Paul goes further: nobody else, not<br />

even the evil spirits, can successfully block us from God’s saving intention.<br />

Therefore, if we try to do God’s will as Jesus taught us and ask sincerely<br />

for forgiveness when we have failed to do so, then God will lead<br />

us to His Kingdom. We should have confidence in this truth — particularly<br />

during times of suffering. When we are suffering severely, we will<br />

want to remember and turn to this radical hope in God’s loving intent to<br />

save us. Anything less could cause us to falter at the very moment we<br />

must believe in our risen glory with Him.<br />

So, this first and most foundational Christian insight is Jesus’ redemption<br />

of suffering. Because our lifetimes are limited and will end,<br />

so will our suffering. When experiencing the joy of God’s unconditional<br />

love in Heaven, our suffering in this life will seem like it was just for an<br />

instant. Just like a mother who forgets the pains of childbirth when she<br />

lovingly gazes at her newborn baby, our suffering will evaporate. When<br />

Christians put their faith in Jesus, this life can no longer be ultimately<br />

tragic. Jesus promised that all suffering would be transformed into<br />

perfect love and joy in His Kingdom, meaning that even the worst of<br />

disasters will be perfectly redeemed for all eternity. But the redemption<br />

of suffering in an eternal life of unconditional love is not the whole story.<br />

Suffering has a significant purpose in this life, too.<br />

When we are<br />

suffering<br />

severely, we<br />

will want to<br />

remember and<br />

turn to this<br />

radical hope in<br />

God’s loving<br />

intent to save us.<br />

Second Christian Insight: Suffering Has Meaning<br />

The secular culture views suffering as meaningless, that it should be<br />

avoided at all costs. It asserts, often in pursuit of immoral actions like<br />

euthanasia, that suffering strips the sick and elderly of their dignity. But<br />

the truth is, suffering is far from meaningless. It helps us move toward<br />

our eternal salvation. It provides many opportunities: It can shock us<br />

out of a superficial existence and point the way to a truly fulfilling life. It<br />

can lead us to deepen our trust in God, which can lead to our salvation<br />

and the salvation of others. Suffering provides the conditions for need<br />

and interdependence, which in turn helps us hear the call to serve others<br />

and to make the world a better place. It can spark growth in natural<br />

virtues such as endurance, courage, fortitude, prudence, rationality, and<br />

temperance. It can purify and deepen our love (agapē), particularly in<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 7, Chapter 18: The Christian Understanding of Suffering<br />


St. Paul’s<br />

perspective is<br />

that suffering<br />

plus faith will<br />

lead to virtue<br />

and love, and<br />

ultimately<br />

salvation.<br />

empathy, humility, forgiveness, and compassion, and provides the conditions<br />

for building the Kingdom of God on earth, bringing hope and<br />

the Good News of salvation to the world.<br />

Were it not for suffering, we would not have a reason to move beyond<br />

a self-centered nature. We would be left without the challenges<br />

that call us to courage, effort, commitment, and love. Thus, even<br />

though suffering causes pain, loss, grief, and other negative emotional<br />

states, Jesus did not view it as essentially negative because in the context<br />

of Faith it can lead toward our and others’ salvation.<br />

St. Paul develops this theology of positive suffering in two important<br />

ways. The first concerns the role of suffering in developing natural<br />

virtue: “[W]e rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces<br />

endurance, and endurance produces character, and character<br />

produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because<br />

God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit<br />

who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5). St. Paul’s perspective is<br />

that suffering plus faith will lead to virtue and love — and ultimately salvation.<br />

Virtues like endurance, character, and hope open us to the love<br />

of God, to an increase in trust, and to a deepening of our own capacity<br />

for love.<br />

The second way St. Paul develops this theology of suffering is by<br />

showing us how suffering teaches us to avoid pride in our own strength,<br />

and to instead trust in God’s power:<br />

“And to keep me from being too elated by the<br />

abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me<br />

in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me,<br />

to keep me from being too elated. Three times I<br />

besought the Lord about this, that it should leave<br />

me; but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for<br />

you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”<br />

I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses,<br />

that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For<br />

the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses,<br />

insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities;<br />

for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2<br />

Corinthians 12:7–10)<br />

The original Greek work translated here as “elated,” can also be translated<br />

as “proud,” which can help us understand what Paul meant. Paul’s<br />

thorn in the flesh was probably a physical infirmity (many biblical scholars<br />

believe that he had significant problems with his vision). And we see<br />

that the suffering from this infirmity brings him two benefits: It prevents<br />

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The smallpox scars on St.<br />

Kateri Tekakwitha face, a<br />

source of humiliation in her<br />

youth, were miraculously<br />

healed moments after she<br />

died.<br />

Statue of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, image courtesy Shutterstock.<br />

him from becoming proud, and his weaknesses are the means through<br />

which Jesus’ power is perfected within him.<br />

For St. Paul, there are far worse things than suffering — namely, the<br />

darkness of pride and conceit, which could give him the false impression<br />

that he was more important and his life more valuable than others.<br />

So, Paul felt incredibly blessed by the Lord to be given his thorn which<br />

caused him to stumble, be embarrassed, and be dependent on others.<br />

Moreover, his thorn opened him to the strength and grace of Christ,<br />

helping him toward his salvation while making him a light to the salvation<br />

of others.<br />

Third Christian Insight: Unconditional Love and the<br />

Absence of Suffering in the Resurrection<br />

Our final insight is the sure knowledge that suffering will be absent in<br />

the resurrection. In the Book of Revelation, the prophetic author states,<br />

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be<br />

no more … ‘Behold, I make all things new’” (Revelation 21:4–5). This<br />

New Testament teaching is validated, interestingly, in thousands of accounts<br />

of near-death experiences (NDEs) as we explored in Chapter 1.<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 7, Chapter 18: The Christian Understanding of Suffering<br />


The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, by Benjamin West.<br />

The sin of Adam brought<br />

suffering and death into the<br />

world, but Original Sin is not<br />

the whole reason for human<br />

suffering.<br />

Those who have had NDEs report almost universally that overwhelming<br />

love is the primary characteristic of their experience. Frequently, these<br />

individuals are taken up into a loving white light; others experience the<br />

love of families, friends, and even Jesus Himself.<br />

As discussed earlier, this view of Heaven puts into perspective the<br />

suffering we endure on this earth. It shows that we will be brought to<br />

fulfillment in our souls and bodies, in our consciousness and love, with<br />

family and friends, and in the splendor of God. Jesus promised the removal<br />

and redemption of pain and suffering in the afterlife: “Blessed<br />

are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4)<br />

and “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give<br />

you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). God intends to make use of every bit of<br />

our suffering to bring us, and others through us, into the eternal peace,<br />

joy, and love of His Kingdom.<br />

Common Misunderstandings of God’s Role in<br />

Suffering<br />

Before concluding, we should examine some common misunderstandings<br />

of suffering and God’s role in it. If we do not know what Jesus revealed<br />

to us about God, it can be easy to form false understandings<br />

about God and His role in suffering that are simply incompatible with<br />

the true Christian teaching of the God of love.<br />

366 Apologetics I: The Catholic Faith and Science<br />

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First Misunderstanding: Suffering is God’s Punishment for Sin<br />

For most of Israel’s history, suffering was understood in this way. For example,<br />

in the Old Testament Book of Job, the protagonist of the story,<br />

Job, did not understand why he was made to suffer so much when<br />

was a just man. His friends tried to rationalize his situation by telling him<br />

that he must have some fault that brought his afflictions on him. In this<br />

view, the suffering of a seemingly innocent person is brought about because<br />

they either do not realize their true sinfulness, or they are being<br />

punished for the sins of their father (or grandfather, or great grandfather)<br />

(see Job 3:1–26; 4:1–21; 21:17–20). God is thus not responsible<br />

for the suffering of the seemingly innocent; He is simply administering<br />

justice. But Jesus revealed God as the unconditionally loving father<br />

of the Prodigal Son who does not directly inflict suffering as a punishment.<br />

Rather, Jesus tells us that the Father “makes his sun rise on the<br />

evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust”<br />

(Matthew 5:45). Jesus formally abandons the idea of suffering as<br />

punishment for sin and says that God causes rain (something negative)<br />

to fall on both the righteous and sinners, and that God causes His sun to<br />

shine (something positive) on both sinners and the righteous.<br />

Second Misunderstanding: Suffering Is Solely the Result of<br />

Original Sin<br />

Neither the Gospels nor the Book of Job point to the sin of Adam to<br />

explain suffering. In fact, the Book of Job instead refers to the testing<br />

of people by Satan, the punishment of sinful people by God, the good<br />

things suffering can do for us, and the mystery of suffering. We can<br />

see, then, that Original Sin is at least not the whole reason for human<br />

suffering. Jesus supersedes the first two reasons (testing and punishment).<br />

And He brings enhanced understanding to the second two (the<br />

good and mystery of suffering), which we will learn more about in the<br />

next chapters.<br />

Original Sin: The state of<br />

human nature deprived of the<br />

original holiness and justice<br />

Adam and Eve enjoyed before<br />

the Fall.<br />

“He makes his<br />

sun rise on the<br />

evil and on the<br />

good, and sends<br />

rain on the<br />

just and on the<br />

unjust.”<br />

MATTHEW 5:45<br />

Third Misunderstanding: God Directly Wills the Events That<br />

Cause Suffering<br />

As previously noted, during the time of the Old Testament, it was commonly<br />

thought that God was directly responsible for everything that<br />

happens. Jesus did not directly dispute this idea, but, if we think about<br />

it, if God were the direct cause of every action in the world, chance and<br />

human freedom would be impossible. St. Thomas Aquinas concluded<br />

that after God (the First Cause) created the universe, secondary causes<br />

(such as gravity) began to operate. This central idea provided the<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 7, Chapter 18: The Christian Understanding of Suffering<br />


Freedom: The power, rooted<br />

in the intellect and will, to act<br />

or not to act, to do this or that,<br />

and so to perform deliberate<br />

actions on one’s own<br />

responsibility. True freedom<br />

is the ability to do what one<br />

ought to do, that which is truly<br />

good and directed toward<br />

God, our happiness and<br />

fulfillment.<br />

Humility: The moral virtue<br />

that keeps us from being<br />

concerned with personal<br />

greatness, but to recognize<br />

our total dependence on God.<br />

intellectual framework for the emergence of natural science. In contemporary<br />

physics, Big Bang cosmology indicates that the parameters<br />

of all causation and natural objects were infused in the universe at the<br />

Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. Though the whole universe must be<br />

brought into being and sustained in being by God (the First Cause), the<br />

forces in the universe can act toward their proper ends without His direct<br />

intervention (for example, gravity can cause an object in the air to<br />

fall back to the earth). While God can intervene in these natural processes<br />

through a miracle, constant interference would make the laws of<br />

nature too unpredictable and undermine human freedom and the benefits<br />

suffering can bring. We will see in the next chapter that there can<br />

be many benefits to challenges and weaknesses, which we would lose if<br />

all suffering were miraculously averted.<br />

So, does God ever directly cause suffering? Sometimes, but probably<br />

very rarely. It is certainly in His power to do so if He chose to. For example,<br />

when St. Paul was on the road to Damascus, Jesus caused him<br />

to be temporarily blind. God may cause suffering directly if it is for our<br />

salvation and does not interfere with our freedom. While St. Paul received<br />

a stunning wake-up call, he freely chose to become a Christian.<br />

But such examples are hard to find as most of the suffering we encounter<br />

comes from the usual, non-divine causes: our choices, others’<br />

choices, and natural causes (e.g., gravity).<br />

Fourth Misunderstanding: If God Were Present in Our<br />

Suffering, We Would Be Able to See How He Helps Us<br />

While it may be tempting to think this way, when we recognize the infinite<br />

wisdom and power of God, we accept our inability to understand<br />

fully how He works. In the Old Testament, God spoke through the<br />

Prophet Isaiah about this very idea:<br />

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,<br />

neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.<br />

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,<br />

so are my ways higher than your ways<br />

and my thoughts than your thoughts.<br />

(Isaiah 55:8–9)<br />

Humility and trust must always be the basis of our relationship with<br />

God. As this relationship grows, it becomes more possible for us to endure<br />

suffering peacefully without understanding why it is happening.<br />

There is one truth we must never abandon no matter our feelings: when<br />

one door closes due to suffering, weakness, or grief, the Holy Spirit is<br />

opening other doors that will lead to purification of faith and love, to<br />

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our salvation, and to our ability to serve others. And remember that<br />

the Holy Spirit understands the vast array of possibilities in the present<br />

and the future, the depths of our and others’ minds and hearts, and the<br />

needs of the Kingdom of God and the common good. But we do not.<br />

Conclusion<br />

We can wrap up the Christian view of suffering with this observation:<br />

God allowed His only begotten Son to suffer for our benefit. Why<br />

wouldn’t He allow us to suffer too if it contributes to the same benefit?<br />

There is no greater benefit for us than eternal life. Belief in Jesus’<br />

promise to remove and redeem all suffering and bring us into a domain<br />

of perfect love and joy is essential to the Christian experience of suffering<br />

well. When we affirm this truth, suffering can no longer be ultimately<br />

tragic. Yes, it can produce terrible pain, grief, loneliness, emptiness, fear,<br />

and frustration, but these negative states are only temporary if we believe<br />

in the Resurrection and put the redemption of our suffering into<br />

the hands of the loving God.<br />

Salvation: The act of being<br />

freed from the power<br />

and effects of sin. Jesus<br />

earned our salvation by His<br />

sacrifice on the Cross and His<br />

Resurrection from the dead.<br />

When we affirm the<br />

Resurrection, suffering can no<br />

longer be ultimately tragic.<br />

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, by Raphael.<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 7, Chapter 18: The Christian Understanding of Suffering<br />


Focus and Reflection Questions<br />

1 What three insights can we gain from reflecting on the meaning of suffering from the Christian<br />

perspective?<br />

2 What did St. Paul say our faith is empty without?<br />

3 What does confidence in Christ’s Resurrection lead to?<br />

4 What do we believe as Christians about our own resurrection?<br />

5 How does the Resurrection reveal who God is?<br />

6 Why does putting our Faith in Jesus Christ mean that nothing we experience in this life will be<br />

ultimately tragic?<br />

7 What meaning does suffering have? Why is it not essentially negative?<br />

8 What was the thorn in his flesh that St. Paul described? How did he explain that this thorn was<br />

actually a blessing?<br />

9 How do studies of near-death experiences validate the New Testament teaching about suffering in<br />

the resurrection?<br />

10 How was suffering understood for most of Israel’s history? What does Jesus teach otherwise?<br />

11 How do we know that Original Sin is not the whole reason for human suffering?<br />

12 Does God directly cause suffering? Why or why not?<br />

13 Why does enduring suffering peacefully require humility and trust?<br />

14 Why can we conclude that suffering must be a part of God’s plan?<br />

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Straight to the Source<br />


Homily of Pope Francis, Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, June 12, 2016<br />

This Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 7:36–8:3) presents us with a specific situation of weakness. The woman<br />

caught in sin is judged and rejected, yet Jesus accepts and defends her: “She has shown great love”<br />

(7:47). This is the conclusion of Jesus, who is attentive to her suffering and her plea. This tenderness<br />

is a sign of the love that God shows to those who suffer and are cast aside. Suffering need not only<br />

be physical; one of today’s most frequent pathologies is also spiritual. It is a suffering of the heart; it<br />

causes sadness for lack of love. It is the pathology of sadness. When we experience disappointment<br />

or betrayal in important relationships, we come to realize how vulnerable and defenseless we are. The<br />

temptation to become self-absorbed grows stronger, and we risk losing life’s greatest opportunity: to<br />

love in spite of everything!<br />

The happiness that everyone desires, for that matter, can be expressed in any number of ways and attained<br />

only if we are capable of loving. This is the way. It is always a matter of love; there is no other path.<br />

The true challenge is that of who loves the most. How many disabled and suffering persons open their<br />

hearts to life again as soon as they realize they are loved!<br />

1 As suffering is not only physical, but also spiritual, what is one of the most frequent types of spiritual<br />

suffering and its effects?<br />

2 How must we counteract this potential risk of becoming self-absorbed and why?<br />

Salvifici Doloris 21, an Encyclical Letter of Pope St. John Paul II, February 11, 1984<br />

21. The Cross of Christ throws salvific light, in a most penetrating way, on man’s life and in particular on his<br />

suffering. For through faith the Cross reaches man together with the Resurrection: the mystery of the<br />

Passion is contained in the Paschal Mystery. The witnesses of Christ’s Passion are at the same time witnesses<br />

of his Resurrection. Paul writes: “That I may know him (Christ) and the power of his Resurrection,<br />

and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection<br />

from the dead”(64). Truly, the Apostle first experienced the “power of the Resurrection” of Christ, on<br />

the road to Damascus, and only later, in this paschal light, reached that “ sharing in his sufferings” of<br />

which he speaks, for example, in the Letter to the Galatians. The path of Paul is clearly paschal: sharing<br />

in the Cross of Christ comes about through the experience of the Risen One, therefore through a special<br />

sharing in the Resurrection. Thus, even in the Apostle’s expressions on the subject of suffering there so<br />

often appears the motif of glory, which finds its beginning in Christ’s Cross.<br />

The witnesses of the Cross and Resurrection were convinced that “through many tribulations we must<br />

enter the Kingdom of God”(65). And Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, says this: “We ourselves boast<br />

of you ... for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which you are<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 7, Chapter 18: The Christian Understanding of Suffering<br />


enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the<br />

Kingdom of God, for which you are suffering”(66). Thus to share in the sufferings of Christ is, at the<br />

same time, to suffer for the Kingdom of God. In the eyes of the just God, before his judgment, those<br />

who share in the suffering of Christ become worthy of this Kingdom. Through their sufferings, in a certain<br />

sense they repay the infinite price of the Passion and death of Christ, which became the price of our<br />

Redemption: at this price the Kingdom of God has been consolidated anew in human history, becoming<br />

the definitive prospect of man’s earthly existence. Christ has led us into this Kingdom through his suffering.<br />

And also through suffering those surrounded by the mystery of Christ’s Redemption become<br />

mature enough to enter this Kingdom.<br />

1 Explain the comments made by Pope St. John Paul II when he states that the Cross of Christ is salvific<br />

and that the “mystery of the Passion is contained in the Paschal Mystery.”<br />

2 What were St. Paul and the other first “witnesses of the Cross and Resurrection” convinced of in terms<br />

of salvation?<br />

3 What does Pope St. John Paul II conclude regarding salvation in terms of suffering?<br />

Deus Caritas Est 37–38, an Encyclical Letter of Pope Benedict XVI, December 25, 2005<br />

37. It is time to reaffirm the importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism<br />

of many Christians engaged in charitable work. Clearly, the Christian who prays does not claim to be<br />

able to change God’s plans or correct what he has foreseen. Rather, he seeks an encounter with the<br />

Father of Jesus Christ, asking God to be present with the consolation of the Spirit to him and his work. A<br />

personal relationship with God and an abandonment to his will can prevent man from being demeaned<br />

and save him from falling prey to the teaching of fanaticism and terrorism. An authentically religious<br />

attitude prevents man from presuming to judge God, accusing him of allowing poverty and failing to<br />

have compassion for his creatures. When people claim to build a case against God in defense of man,<br />

on whom can they depend when human activity proves powerless?<br />

38. Certainly Job could complain before God about the presence of incomprehensible and apparently<br />

unjustified suffering in the world. In his pain he cried out: “Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I<br />

might come even to his seat! ... I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would<br />

say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? ... Therefore I am terrified at his<br />

presence; when I consider, I am in dread of him. God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified<br />

me” (23:3, 5-6, 15-16). Often we cannot understand why God refrains from intervening. Yet he<br />

does not prevent us from crying out, like Jesus on the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken<br />

me?” (Mt 27:46). We should continue asking this question in prayerful dialogue before his face: “Lord,<br />

holy and true, how long will it be?” (Rev 6:10). It is Saint Augustine who gives us faith’s answer to our<br />

sufferings: “Si comprehendis, non est Deus” — ”if you understand him, he is not God.” Our protest is not<br />

meant to challenge God, or to suggest that error, weakness or indifference can be found in him. For the<br />

believer, it is impossible to imagine that God is powerless or that “perhaps he is asleep” (cf. 1 Kg 18:27).<br />

372 Apologetics I: The Catholic Faith and Science<br />

© Magis Center

Instead, our crying out is, as it was for Jesus on the Cross, the deepest and most radical way of affirming<br />

our faith in his sovereign power. Even in their bewilderment and failure to understand the world around<br />

them, Christians continue to believe in the “goodness and loving kindness of God” (Tit 3:4). Immersed<br />

like everyone else in the dramatic complexity of historical events, they remain unshakably certain that<br />

God is our Father and loves us, even when his silence remains incomprehensible.<br />

1 In his Encyclical Letter, why does Pope Benedict XVI warn Christians against blaming and judging God<br />

for sufferings in the world such as poverty?<br />

2 Does abandonment to God’s will mean we are not allowed to question our trials and sufferings?<br />

3 According to Pope Benedict XVI, what should Christians focus on when God seems to be silent in<br />

circumstances, and when they cannot understand or are bewildered by the world that surrounds<br />

them?<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 7, Chapter 18: The Christian Understanding of Suffering<br />


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